By Billy Mitchell, NFU Food Safety Training Coordinator
Built on Booker T. Washington’s practice of taking educational opportunities to rural areas, designed by George Washington Carver, and financed by Morris Jesup, Jesup Wagons were “moveable schools” that delivered the university classroom experience to farmers across Alabama. Back in 1906, they were horse-drawn wagons but gradually evolved with the times to include busses, trucks, and RVs – and most recently, a truck-drawn trailer known as the Mobile Farm Innovation Project. The modern-day Jesup Wagon pull up to a December meeting hosted by the Mississippi Minority Famers Alliance, bringing with it hands-on educational experiences designed to increase farm viability through food safety and conservation practices.
The Mobile Farm Innovation Project is a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-funded partnership between Auburn University, the Deep South Food Alliance, Alabama A&M University’s Small Farms Research Center, Fort Valley State University, National Farmers Union, and farmers from Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. Andrew Williams, one of the project leads, notes that often in programs like these, farmers are “not involved in planning and receive no compensation.” Recognizing the importance of having farmers’ perspectives incorporated in the development and implementation of the project, Williams and the other partners ensured that the project “compensates farmers and allows them to share in the project design.”
As a result, the attendees in Mississippi took part in with hands-on activities that integrated practical solutions to the day-to-day produce safety and conservation issues that they may face on their farms. These included hooking up a cold storage system using a CoolBot, mixing and managing sanitizer solutions, creating a Google Map of their farm, taking a water sample, and building an on-farm hand wash station. Each activity gave the participants the opportunity to learn from both the project leads as well as each other, creating a space to try out new practices and share their own past experiences and ideas for future projects. For one participant, the opportunity to safely, and maybe a bit nervously, use an impact drill for the first time as they put together the legs of a handwash station led to a deeper conversation about where and why they would want to place different handwash stations around their farm.
When the group gathered to reflect at the end of the session, one person shared how good it felt to use this “new approach” to bring resources to farmers. Kristin Woods, a Regional Extension Agent with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and a small-scale farmer, reminded the room that while some of the technology was new, the techniques were rooted in the practices of educators and farmers that came before them. Looking towards the future, the project will continue to evolve in 2021 guided by farmer feedback as workshops happen in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi – continuing the tradition of farmers and educators working together since at least the late 1800s.
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This project website is supported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award 1U01FD006921-01 totaling $1,000,000 with 100 percent funded by FDA/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by FDA/HHS, or the U.S. Government.